Sunday, January 2, 2011

Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press, 2009
391 pages

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. (My review of the first book, also called The Hunger Games, is here. If you haven't read any of this series, then I suggest taking a look at the first review before going further in this one. For the sake of context.)

When we were last with main character and narrator Katniss Everdeen, she'd just won the Hunger Games. Actually it was a tie with her District 12 partner, Peeta. She and Peeta had played the game by pretending to be in love with each other, when really Katniss was sort of in love with Gale from back home in coal mining country. Now Peeta and Katniss are back home, where they live the good life in the Victor's Village. Life is about as good as it can get in post-apocalyptic society. Gale, though, has been put to work in the coal mines. He works 12 hours shifts six days a week. Katniss helps take care of his family (and lots of other people, too) by sharing her winnings of monthly food and other goods. When they can, they steal away to the forest for a few hours of hunting, but those days are now few and far in between.

One day, quite out of the blue, Katniss returns home to find that she has a special visitor. The President of Panem (the name of her repressive country) has come to pay her a special visit. President Snow is truly despicable. He's a dictator who controls the people in the districts -- who, by the way, are really no more than slaves to the people in the Capitol. President Snow has a message for Katniss, that she really needs to get with his program. You see, she's now considered a hero in the districts because her actions in the Hunger Games inspired an uprising in one of the districts. President Snow makes it clear that he doesn't want to see any more of Katniss' rebellious behavior.

But Katniss isn't the type of person who takes easily to rules. Rumors of unrest continue, and things start to tighten up in District 12. One day after a successful hunt with Gale, Katniss is drawn to a commotion in the town center, where she finds the Peacekeepers (the government police) have Gale tied to a whipping post and are whipping him mercilessly. Her interruption of Gale's punishment (he was caught with "stolen" game from the hunt") probably saved Gale's life, but it put yet another target on her back. Suddenly, District 12 is under a sort of martial law. Katniss sneaks out again to go hunting, and meets up with two women who have run away from another district in search of District 13, the nuclear-energy producing area that was supposedly destroyed many years ago. When Katniss returns to 12, she finds that electricity has been restored to the fence, and the only way back inside is to climb a tree and then jump in.

So now we're in the middle of the book, more or less, when the real action begins. President Snow announces that, in celebration of the Capitol's 75 year-old victory over the "district rebels", there will be a special Hunger Games. The participants will be two people from each district, from the pool of previous Hunger Games winners. This means that Katniss, Peeta, and their mentor Haymitch will all be potential players. Once again, players must fight to the death.

Katniss realizes that what President Snow is doing is trying to quell the uprisings by killing off the strongest - to teach the districts yet another lesson. She and Peeta return to the games (Haymitch remains their mentor) and this time, the gamemakers have even more challenges and surprises for the players. The last half of the book will have you on the edge of your seat, and Catching Fire has one of the most amazing and unexpected cliffhangers I've read in a while. So much that I had to immediately begin reading the final book in the series -- Mockingjay. Come back again in a few days to see how that goes.